Monthly Archives: April 2011

Nevada Sen. Ensign to Resign; Heller Likely to be Appointed

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), rocked with a sex and blackmail scandal that made winning re-election impossible, announced that he will resign his seat effective May 3rd. This will give newly elected Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) the opportunity of appointing a successor to serve until the next regular election in November 2012. All indications suggest that Sandoval will appoint Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) as the interim senator. The congressman has already announced his intention to run for the open seat and has become the virtual consensus Republican candidate. Sandoval endorsed Heller for the seat long before it became known that Ensign would not serve the balance of his term.

Appointing Heller would give him incumbency advantage for the 17 months prior to the election. This will undoubtedly help him raise money; though, as a consensus candidate in a competitive U.S. Senate race, money would likely not have been an obstacle. One key difference, however: Upon appointment, Heller will be treated as an incumbent by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, thus making their involvement much easier than if the race happens to evolve into a contested primary. The party and institutional financial backing should give Heller an added boost in the general election as he will square-off with Las Vegas Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1). Last week Berkley made official her entry into the Senate race.

Nevada, the fastest growing U.S. state during the past decade (35 percent growth over the 10-year period; the national average was 9.7 percent) is a changing region. Previously, a place that leaned more Republican than Democrat, Nevada is now the quintessential swing state. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was re-elected 50-45 percent in a very difficult campaign, Sandoval was simultaneously out-distancing Reid’s son, Rory, in the governor’s race, 53-42 percent. Freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-3) was also turned out of office by current Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3) in the seat that has become the most over-populated congressional district in the nation, housing over one million inhabitants. The strong growth rate awarded the state a new congressional seat, the third consecutive decade such as happened. In 2008, Pres. Obama carried the state over John McCain by a lopsided 55-43 percent mark. Four years earlier, then-President Bush outpaced John Kerry here 50-48 percent.

Thus, the stage is set for another close election, and an incumbency advantage for Heller could be just the impetus he needs to cross the political finish line first.

But, appointing Mr. Heller could cause further controversy at the U.S. House level. Heller actually vacating his congressional seat to finish Ensign’s term, means a special election will be held in NV-2 later this year. Sharron Angle, the Tea Party activist who won the GOP Senate nomination but came up short against Sen. Reid, has already announced that she will run for the open seat in 2012. A special election would hasten the political clock and she will undoubtedly enter the early contest, with a strong chance of winning a split primary. In 2006, when Heller was first elected, Angle only lost the Republican primary to him by 421 votes (39.5 – 39.3 percent). In a crowded field of candidates, which will likely occur, securing a base of +35 percent likely means winning the nomination, and she has previously done better in this very territory. The 2nd district touches a small part of Clark County (Las Vegas), and then occupies the rest of the state, including Angle’s power base of Washoe County (Reno).

In a way, the special election might actually hinder Angle’s chances of winning the primary. In a redrawn 2nd district, the seat will likely lose it’s Clark County portion, a place where Angle performed 11 percentage points under Heller in 2006. But, the special election will occur in the current 2nd district. Originally drawn as a safe Republican seat, the 2nd has become marginal. In fact, Heller only scored a 50-45 percent win over Nevada Democratic Party chair Jill Derby in ’06, followed with a closer-than-expected 52-41 percent victory two years later against the same opponent. Derby may again become a candidate, and could be strong in a special general election particularly if Angle wins the Republican nomination.

It appears evident that Nevadans are headed for another lively and potentially bitter election cycle yet again, and one that will almost assuredly begin early.
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Sen. Ensign to Resign in Nevada

Reports from Nevada are saying that Sen. John Ensign (R) will resign his seat as early as tomorrow. Speculation is rampant that Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) will appoint Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2), already a candidate for Senate in 2012, to fill the unexpired portion of Ensign’s term. Sandoval has already endorsed Heller for the open seat campaign.

More in tomorrow’s PRIsm Political Update.

Wisconsin Judicial Race in Official Recount

Normally a state Supreme Court judicial race doesn’t have much national significance, but everything coming from Wisconsin these days does. Assistant Attorney General JoAnn Kloppenburg, yesterday, officially requested a taxpayer financed statewide recount of her election defeat to incumbent Justice David Prosser. The official difference between the two candidates is 7,316 votes. The margin was barely within the 0.05% difference that can trigger an official recount. Any amount over this percentage can be tallied again, but the requesting candidate must finance the action.

This particular race was characterized as a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker’s position opposite the public employee unions in a fight that, for a time, attracted almost non-stop national news media attention. Both the unions and conservative organizations invested big dollars, activated large numbers of people, and expended immense effort into winning the April 5th election for their respective candidate. The winner would tip the conservative/liberal balance on the seven-member court one way or the other; hence, the high political stakes. The new law that now curtails public employee union organizing privileges will eventually come before the high court to finally decide, thus heightening the resolve for both sides in this election.

Most of the electoral controversy comes from Waukesha County, located due west of Milwaukee, where one town of more than 14,000 voters was not included in the original count. On election night, it appeared that Kloppenburg had won the election by a scant 204 votes, and declared victory. It wasn’t until the next day that the Waukesha error was discovered, thus igniting the dispute. Though the election is close, finding 7,400 illegal or missed votes is a very high number. Thus, Prosser’s victory will likely stand and the outcome should be viewed as a huge victory for Walker and his allies.
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House Financials – Analyzing the Numbers

The first quarter in the never-ending political fundraising cycle is in the books, and it appears that 37 incumbent Representatives raised more than $300,000 in the first three months of 2011. Six non-incumbents also posted numbers north of $300K, but in two of those cases the number was achieved with a large personal contribution.

Of the three dozen in the aforementioned group, 10, all Republicans, are freshmen. They are: Reps. Cory Gardner (CO-4), Allen West (FL-22), Joe Walsh (IL-8), Bob Dold (IL-10), Steve Stivers (OH-15), Pat Meehan (PA-7), Tim Scott (SC-1), Diane Black (TN-6), and David McKinley (WV-1).

Forty-seven members, 27 Republicans and 20 Democrats, have more than $1 million cash-on-hand. Ten (six Democrats and four Republicans) have more than $2 million. They are: Reps. Brad Sherman (CA-27), Ed Royce (CA-40), Cliff Stearns (FL-6), Jerry Costello (IL-12), Richard Neal (MA-2), Ed Markey (MA-7), Michele Bachmann (MN-6), Frank Pallone (NJ-6), Lloyd Doggett (TX-25), and Paul Ryan (WI-1). Sherman, Markey, Pallone, and Ryan actually have more than $3 million in the bank. Ryan, with $3,156,814 in his campaign account, has the most of any incumbent congressman.

The most prolific fundraising district is FL-22, as three potential candidates, including freshman Rep. Allen West, all broke the $250,000 mark in money raised. West attracted $452,843. Businessman Patrick Murphy (D) registered $352,449, and former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel (D) obtained $254,664. The early start here is a bit of a paradox. The 22nd district was represented by both a Republican, E. Clay Shaw, and Democrat, Ron Klein, during the past decade prior to West winning in 2010. With the state gaining two new seats, it is a cinch that this marginal district, currently stretching north to south from West Palm Beach and deep into Broward County as it weaves its way along the coast, will be radically redrawn. Therefore, it is unclear if either of these potential West challengers will even have a base within the new district.

The fundraising numbers can tell individual stories, too. Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) just announced her decision to run for the Senate, but her campaign account suggests she made up her mind weeks ago. The congresswoman raised $694,750 for the first quarter. Though Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) says he has not ruled out a Senate bid in the Show Me State, his early campaign activity suggests that he will get into the race. His first quarter income figure was $458,552, a big number for a member who has traditionally been less than prolific on the fundraising circuit. The same is true for Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL-13), who banked $524,757. He has also not yet ruled out a Senate bid. Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA-4), who just announced he will challenge fellow-Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3) because Iowa loses a seat raised $414,257. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) is gearing up for a potential presidential run, thus explaining her huge $1.75 million quarter. Another potential national candidate, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) raised almost nothing for his congressional account ($4,430), but has over $1.63 million on hand.

The California delegation is a story, too, as the 53 congressmen await the actions of a new redistricting commission, the members of which will draw the Golden State congressional lines for the first time. This explains a great deal of financial activity here, even though virtually all of the members have safe districts. California does not gain any representation from reapportionment for the first time in history, meaning that a further unknown creeps into the California redistricting mix. Rep. Brad Sherman’s CA-27 could be radically redrawn as Los Angeles County will likely have fewer seats than it does today, losing them to places such as the Inland Empire and desert region. Sherman is one of the members with more than $3 million in the bank, so he is ready for a campaign no matter where his district may land. Seventeen California members have more than $500,000 in their campaign accounts and seven of them are over $1 million.

As so often occurs in modern era politics, the dollars tell much of the story. The first quarter of 2011 appears to be no exception.
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Democratic Senators in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Looking Good

Democrats got two pieces of good news in the past few days from states where they fared poorly in 2010. In Michigan, former Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI-2) closed the door on a potential Senate bid against two-term incumbent Debbie Stabenow (D) by saying he will not run statewide next year. Hoekstra left the House in 2010 to seek the governor’s office, but lost the primary to eventual general election winner Rick Snyder. Stabenow is perceived to be vulnerable in 2012, but so far no strong potential opponent has yet stepped forward to challenge her.

In Pennsylvania, Public Policy Polling (April 7-10; 493 registered Pennsylvania voters) just released a new statewide poll that shows Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D) doing very well against all name Republican potential candidates. The person faring best, though giving no indication that he will run again, is former Sen. Rick Santorum (R) who Casey defeated 59-41 percent in 2006. But, even this match-up isn’t particularly close. According to PPP, Casey leads Santorum 49-37 percent. Though he fares well on the ballot test questions, the senator has some potential vulnerabilities. Casey’s job approval index tallies just 39:35 percent, and among Democrats is only 55:22 percent. A long time remains between now and the candidate filing deadline, so expect the action to soon pick up in both of these states.
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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.